Gareth Ford-Elliott

Writer based in Cardiff. Founder of Eno Theatre.

Review: The Island at Oasis Cardiff by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from Fio at Oasis Cardiff, a community centre for refugees and asylum seekers, was a beautiful way for anyone to get introduced to Fio.

It wasn’t a classic “theatre night”, but more a community evening that had a play at the end of it. There was food served originating from various different countries, the opportunity to have your photo taken and talk with other audience members and refugees from all over the world.

All this before Oasis World Choir, a choir of refugees, took to the stage to perform, inviting the audience to sing along. They performed a mix of pop songs and songs written by themselves. It was a real mix of cultures brought together by music and truly was a beautiful thing to witness. The general themes of the songs were about hope and unity.

As someone who grew up in a close-knit, music based community in West Ireland, it took me right back to that community feeling. But this was totally different, a group of people from all over the world, from various backgrounds.

Some of the music was brilliant. Some of it was a bunch of people having a sing-song, the choir and the audience which was fun. But there were some really beautiful individual performances from various members of the choir.

The Island from Fio

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Island follows two black prisoners, John and Winston, who rehearse and perform a theatrical version of the Greek myth of Antigone during their time on Robben Island in Apartheid South Africa. Based on a true story, the two prisoners use this play as a way to speak about the current state of affairs of their country. It is a story of brotherhood, jealousy, oppression and protest with an important message of equality at its heart.

The play, originally performed in 1973, has its issues. There is a lot of character building, but a lack of character motivation at times. Whilst there are moments of real importance, the energy of the play stagnates too often. The restrictions of censorship in Apartheid South Africa when this play was written is a reasons for this. Only touching on certain issues that couldn’t be explicitly spoken about in detail. Whereas for a modern audience, in full knowledge of the realities of apartheid, it maybe doesn’t hold the power it did in 1973.

That aside, it tells an important story of struggle against the state. A story that is as relevant around the world today as it was in 1973. You could tell similar stories about the prisons in the USA, Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and even in post-Mandela South Africa. And despite the lack of detail and skirting around the harshest of realities, when this production does suck you in, it is hard not to feel it.

Because of the possibility of telling this story anywhere in the current world, you have to question Fio’s choice to cover this time period. Why this piece? Why now? What is it saying that is new? The answer to that last question is, nothing. We are not getting anything new. If anything, this is a watered-down version of what happened.

However, it is important to learn from history. And Fio were not making this piece of theatre to say anything new. They were making it to speak about the past of South Africa and how we, as the UK, move forward with commonwealth nations considering the past we share. Fio are clear to state the UK’s complicity in South Africa’s apartheid period.

I must mention that it does feel wrong to criticise a script written in a state of censorship. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, an industry full of censorship, you will know how much allegory is relied on to criticise the state and how often details are left to interpretation. The Apple (1998), written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, takes the real life story of two young women locked up by their father, and combines that with the symbolism of an apple, a symbol of opportunity, temptation and “the fall of man”, to speak about sexism in the country.

Is it the pinnacle of filmmaking? No. But you don’t get screened at Cannes for nothing. And The Island didn’t win Tony Awards for its technical playwrighting. But more for what it meant at that time.

Less about Fio’s choice to stage it though, Abdul Shayek’s direction fluctuates as the play progresses. The parts that stand out in the script are expressed well in this production. Most of the play is handled with care and directed to good effect. But there are areas that stagnate, times where the energy drops and moments that seem to lack importance.

The design was the strongest aspect of this production. The set was simple, yet effective. Four metal poles holding up a caged ceiling. This set was utilised well by the actors and combined with sound and lighting design, works well together, particularly in dream-like sequences, to produce emotive design. In a space like the Oasis, effectively a sports hall, this is not an easy feat and they deserve credit.

Performances from Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are both strong. Portraying a brotherly relationship that shows real love, yet also jealousy. The moments of intimacy are beautiful, however some moments of conflict early in the play seem forced. The movement from the performers at times is really strong, which movement director Andile Sotiya deserves credit for.

The Island from Fio split my opinion a great deal and I still can’t decide, in my opinion, whether Fio made the right choice in staging it. Aspects were brilliant, but other parts fell flat. On one hand telling stories about history is important. But on the other hand, was this the right play to put in front a 2018 audience in Wales? Especially viewing it on this night, sharing a room with refugees, I couldn’t help but want to hear their stories more than one I have heard a thousand times. Stories that affect the present. But then, what is the present if we ignore history?

Overall though, the piece was an enjoyable piece of theatre, both from a general spectators perspective and from a critics perspective. Plenty to talk about afterwards both artistically and politically. Not to mention, the event as a whole was really beautiful and made for a heart-warming evening full of hope.

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
Presented by Fio at Oasis Cardiff on November 9th 2018
Director: Abdul Shayek
Winston: Wela Mbusi
John: Joe Shire
Movement Director: Andile Sotiya
Lighting Design: Ryan Joseph Stafford
Sound Design: Dan Lawrence
Design Consultant: Becky Davies
Stage Manager: Jeremy Barnaby
Executive Producer: Shane Nickels
Producer: Nicole May
Assistant Stage Manager: Cait Gerry
Assistant Director: Yuqun Fan
Assistant Producer: Jasmine Okai
Community Engagement Officer: Naz Syed
Audio Description Consultant: Alastair Sil
Caption Consultant & Creator: Ben Tinniswood

Review: Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Gareth Ford-Elliott

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Kevin Jones’ monologue Cardiff Boy is a nostalgic jump into the 90’s with a story as relevant today as it was in the 90’s. A story of male friendship that explores toxic masculinity with a killer 90’s soundtrack.

Narrated by “the quiet one” of the group, the story follows a group of young Cardiff lads as we join them on a night out. The use of set, sound and lighting design really add to Jones’ descriptive and emotive piece, which is guided well by director Matthew Holmquist and actor Jack Hammett.

Jones’ writing in this piece has its strength in the language. Whilst the plot is fairly basic, it is the expression of the characters that really stands out. Jones uses a clever mix of comedy and archetypal characters to juxtapose the hard hitting moments of the play. This works very well and makes the play relatable, enjoyable whilst also saying something unique.

There’s more you want to know about the characters and paths that are left unexplored. But not in an unsatisfying way. Details such as the protagonist’s relationship with his father is touched upon, but quickly brushed over by the protagonist. A detail that could be explored, but the lack of clarity of which is harrowingly too real for many young men.

When the audience enter the space of The Other Room, we leave behind Porters, the pub within which the theatre resides. However, with Cardiff Boy, The Other Room literally feels like the other room of the pub, such is the strength of the set design.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

 

Sitting down you’re greeted by benches and chairs scattered throughout the room, with tables on which to rest your drinks. And as Hammett wanders between you and the other audience members, it is hard not to feel a strong sense of place.

This is heightened with the hanging photographs of 90’s Cardiff, which act as a sort of scrapbook of the protagonist’s photography collection. Photography and perception is used at various times by the protagonist to set the scene, with the city and locations generally described in great detail. Looking around at these fragments of Cardiff hanging from the ceiling, creates a very evocative feeling that makes it easy to get drawn in.

The directing of Matthew Holmquist is another strength of this piece. Not an easy piece to take on, such is the temperamental nature of the script. Without a brave director, that temperament could easily become a major flaw. But, the tone of the piece is handled brilliantly by Holmquist who allows the moments of emotion time to breath, without letting them take over.

Jack Hammett does a good job of portraying the protagonist and his mates as he bops around the room. In particular moments of vulnerability, which defines his “quiet” character, stand out. Ultimately a play about difference in men, Hammett does a great job in portraying this.

The use of sound is crucial to this play, and it doesn’t fail to impress. The soundtrack is obviously brilliant for anyone who enjoys 90’s music. Often used to comedic effect, the music, like the photographs, has a deeper meaning to the protagonist of the piece. Sound is also key in setting the scene and does so well.

The only issue for sound designer Joshua Bowles to work on would be that the level of the sound often drowns out Hammett’s voice. On occasion this works, for example in the club, where you can never hear anyone anyway, however, probably an occurrence too regular were that the desired effect.

photo credit Kirsten McTernan

 

 

 

The use of lighting from Ryan Stafford is understated. Often going unnoticed until you try to see it, the lighting adds to the overall piece well. A tough play for lighting, as the stage is the entire room, Stafford manages to keep it effective without distracting. Even when there are flashing lights, you barely notice it because the music, direction and acting are all working together with the lighting to set the scene.

Perhaps this is the biggest compliment to Cardiff Boy and Red Oak Theatre as a wider company. A company that views the roles of the designers as importantly as the director, writer or actor. Something that is weirdly rare when you consider how well it has worked in Cardiff Boy and how vital these professions are to the theatre industry.

It’s good also to see that with this in mind, Red Oak are committed and passionate about developing young artists with a paid assistant director (Nerida Bradley) and assistant designer (Lauren Dix). A company no doubt restricted by a budget won’t always do this, so it’s nice to see Red Oak committing to young artists in this way.

Along with this, it is heartening for a piece that started at a scratch night, to grow into such a strong piece of theatre. Again showing Red Oak’s commitment to new work and new artists.

Overall, Cardiff Boy is a wonderful production. It’s hard to say anything stands out in this production as everything works so well together to achieve its aim. However, April Dalton’s design, assisted by Lauren Dix, is phenomenal and deserves recognition.

The play’s greatest strength is the team behind it because with another team, and another company, Jones’ emotive script could be easily forgotten.

Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones
Presented by Red Oak Theatre
Running From: 30 October – 11 November 2018
Performed at The Other Room, Cardiff
Director: Matthew Holmquist
Cast: Jack Hammett
Designer: April Dalton
Lighting Designer: Ryan Stafford
Stage Manager: Joshua Bowles
Sound Designer: Joshua Bowles
Producer: Ceriann Williams
Assistant Director: Nerida Bradley
Assistant Designer: Lauren Dix

‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Just Say It’ from Susan Monkton by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Just Say It by Susan Monkton is a moving exploration of how miscarriage in pregnancy affects a relationship, which evokes raw emotion.

Another gem from the Cardiff Fringe Lab, as a work in progress the star rating is more judge on the potential of the piece and judging where it is in relevance to progress at the present. This review is very much for feedback as it is for the sake of reviewing.

The tone, pace and energy of this piece in the writing by Susan Monkton and directing by the team of director Chelsey Gillard and AD Cassidy Howard-Kemp, begin really well.

I had seen this piece scratched at an event by Spilt Milk Theatre in 2017 and I remember it well – as it stood out. I knew what to expect when going in. However, this production of Just Say It is longer and had improved. Not only are we still taken on the journey, despite knowing what is going to happen (more or less), there was more humour than I remember and it also connects much more. This shows the progress on the project as well as the ability to evoke emotion.

Some of this is bound to be down to it not being a scratch and more rehearsed – but the whole team really do a good job of taking us on that journey again, step by step. The test of any story is, when it’s repeated or if the audience have knowledge of the story, does it still have the same impact. And this definitely does.

Susan Monkton’s monologue is very well acted by Monkton herself. The focus of the play follows Bella as she falls pregnant with her lovable-idiot-boyfriend, Dave. They have a fairly standard relationship until an unplanned pregnancy springs itself upon them. Bella decides to keep it. Both Bella and Dave grow from hesitancy to excitement fairly quickly, which comes across as natural for this couple. They start preparing for the baby, in what they buy for the baby and emotionally preparing for parenthood and giving birth.

This all leads very well up to the point where Bella is told that she is to have a miscarriage. The scene where she finds out is very powerful and it is a brilliant climax to a brilliant piece thus-far.

It is after this scene where the issues in the script start to emerge. It becomes repetitive at times and starts to drag a little. The exploration of the relationship is interesting. It is clear this is not about miscarriage, it’s about a relationship that deals with it. But the strength in the scripts at the moment is in the lead-up to the miscarriage and doesn’t carry over to the second half.

Bella repeats herself a lot when talking about her feelings. This can be interpreted various ways. On one hand, she is falling into a sort of depressive state. She is not upset, as she says, and not angry. She’s feeling nothing. And this is really well represented. But on the other hand, it feels pushed down our throats in the writing.

Also, the play falls a little flat in the direction at this point after the announcement of the miscarriage. It is a big contrast to before this announcement – which is good. It shouldn’t be as upbeat as earlier. However, it doesn’t level out.

I want to emphasise, the second part is not boring, it is still quite well written, directed and acted. It just doesn’t meet the high expectations we have been brought before in the play. When a play dips slightly in quality, even if it’s not bad, it can feel like you’ve gone from brilliant to awful. When in reality this play goes from brilliant to okay; enjoyable but not as unmissable as the first half. Moving forward, this is definitely the area that needs work.

Having said that, the relationship is explored further by Monkton in the script and we start to see how a couple struggles with the loss of this child that they never physically had in their hands. It feels like lost memories that weren’t ever there. This is a really interesting part of the relationship to analyse and there is certainly more here to be explored. As previously stated, there is some repetition which is taking up space from other avenues to explore for the writer.

Generally throughout the piece director Gillard and AD Howard-Kemp explore the relationship well. The use of BSL interpreter Liz May is beautiful. Not only does it work within the context of the play, but it’s so nice to see a BSL interpreter not just stood on the side signing. Of course, sometimes there’s not a way to work the BSL into the piece. But here it was done so well and inclusively. A shame that Liz May fades into the background a little in the second half. But, this is still a lot more than a lot of shows do so it is definitely a step in the right direction. There is also the argument that a lot of the interaction between Monkton and May was comedic and the second half isn’t as comedic. But either way, this was a really nice touch.

Overall, it is a very strong piece. With a few tweaks in tone and a few redrafts can become an excellent piece of theatre.

Tonight, June 12th at 6.30pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Just Say It – Presented by Susan Monkton and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by and starring Susan Monkton.
BSL Interpreter: Liz May
Director: Chelsey Gillard.
Assistant Director: Cassidy Howard-Kemp.
Producer: Rhys Denton
Running time: 45 mins approx.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘Misfire’ from Old Sole Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Misfire from Old Sole Theatre Company is relevant and shows real promise to be an excellent piece of theatre.

In the interest of clarity, I’ll start this review by saying I am good friends with the director Nerida Bradley, despite what she may tell you. That said, I believe in constructive, critical response and it is what I would want as an artist myself. You can either believe me or not.

I will also be reviewing this piece based on it being an R&D production and part of the Fringe Lab at the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival. So, the star rating is given on the basis it is R&D and the review is also acting as feedback.

This piece is here to further the discussion of the main theme of the play, toxic masculinity. It also takes inspiration from the exposé of the #MeToo Movement, exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

The play is a monologue set up as anti-stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedy show that goes wrong if you will. We immediately get a sense of the character’s obnoxious nature during his entrance. Jon Parry plays Jake, a stand-up comic, who enters, demanding a drink at the bar. Unsuccessful, he goes to the stage and waits for the music, ‘The Entertainer’  by Tony Clarke, to stop.

Jake then proceeds to make some terrible jokes. “Next joke… Carrie Fisher died… Princess Leia’s gone.” This just isn’t funny – but the distasteful pleasure of the joke shows us a glimpse of this characters mindset and the dry delivery from Parry enforces this well.

The great thing about this play is, from the start of the play you really have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea what Jake is going to do.

Jon Parry does a good job of portraying the stand-up comedian, who is drunk and stoned. The highlight of the performance comes when Jake has a gun in his mouth and tells the story of a congressman, Budd Dwyer, who shot himself in the head on camera. In this we also have a double-entendre of speaking about dying. The comic doesn’t reveal whether this is dying on stage as a comedian or literally dying. But to the relief of anyone who doesn’t like death endings, like me, he doesn’t kill himself, literally. And he dies on stage at the start of the play.

The writer James Neale does a good job of covering the subject on the scale of your average guy. However, the piece often lacks vision and ambition. The feeling that the stand-up comic could do anything is good, but needs to be met with sufficient vision and structure. It also feels like the boundaries could be pushed much more. In the post-show Q&A it was clear from a few of the audience members, that the script needs work in this sense.

Structurally, the script gets going into the theme very quickly, but then dies out a little. Not completely, but the most explicit stuff comes at the start. The piece doesn’t build particularly well. We need to be building to something. This is what the piece lacks more than anything. We don’t need to know where we’re going, but need to be taken on a journey.

The language used is good and we get a really good sense of the character. There are parts of the script which are very well written. But when you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it needs to push more.

The direction for this piece is good. Jon and Nerida worked well together to portray James’ script. The messy moving around the venue – AJ’s Coffee House – works well as it feels naturalistic.

We could see a more sinister approach at times, particularly when Jake talks about stalking girls and choking his girlfriend during sex. The relaxed nature works in that it shows these things as normal to the character. But the tone is often quite relaxed and with this, these significant moments only stand out in text and not in the performance. The tone and pace of these things could be played with.

Overall, I’ve given the play a star rating of four as I feel with a bit of work, when it gets to a place where it is ready to go on stage fully, it will be a very strong show. It was certainly a strong R&D performance and exactly what the Cardiff Fringe Lab is about.

The post-show Q&A was an interesting discussion – but it definitely became clear that there is more vision and potential not being explored in the text and in the rehearsal room to come from this play.

Also, very quick note. It’s really nice to see shows that are BSL interpreted – but sometimes this can’t be arranged for whatever reason. It was nice to see an apology for this on the freesheet. The more we can normalise BSL interpretation, even if we aren’t using it, the better.

Tonight, June 12th at 7.45pm, you GET THE CHANCE to see this production again. Tickets are available here.

Misfire – Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.
AJ’s Coffee House – June 11-12, 2018.
Written by James Neale.
Directed by Nerida Bradley.
Starring Jon Parry as Jake.
Poster art by Miles Rozel Brayford.
Running time: 30 mins approx with 30 min Q&A about the play and toxic masculinity following.

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Review: ‘People – Picture – Power – Perception’ by Gareth Ford-Elliott

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

With ‘People – Picture – Power – Perception’ (PPPP), Avant Cymru set out to explore what Welsh Hip-Hop theatre is and to showcase the hip-hop talents of Wales at the Chapter Arts Centre as part of the 2018 Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival.

As the title suggests, the piece portrays people, gives them the platform to show their picture, which gives them the power to change the perception surrounding hip-hop. In the mainstream, hip-hop is portrayed as specifically rap with themes of drugs and gangs. A major worry when attending this performance was that it would be too much like this. I have had experiences with Welsh hip-hop before and it has been limited to that field.

However, Avant Cymru do not fall into this trap. If you’re not aware, allow me to give a very brief history and explanation of hip-hop culture. Hip-hop culture consists of four main art forms known as the four pillars of hip-hop; emceeing/MCing (rapping/singing/spoken word), DJing (beat production, beat-freestyling, beat-boxing), breaking/break-dancing and graffiti art. It started in New York and has grown into the one of the biggest art movements in the world.

Jonzi D, a pioneer of hip-hop theatre, was told at his dance school, “Hip-Hop is not valuable for the theatre,” before going on to define what British hip-hop theatre is, with the help of people like Akala who created the Hip-Hop Shakespeare company. And now, we have Avant Cymru attempting to do the same in Wales, with specifically Welsh artists, Welsh voices and Welsh themes.

Starting with the DJing, mostly produced by Jamey P, the beats used for ‘PPPP’ are exceptional. The production is one of the outstanding elements of the show. The production always fits, sounds incredible and even when left to stand alone is enjoyable.

Beatbox Hann performs his championship-winning beatboxing skills very well. His accolades and CV speak for themselves, but here he showcases real talent. Understanding when to blend into the background and when to come to the forefront.

The stand-out section of the show is a piece between Hann and breaker, Bboy Flexton (James Berry). It starts with Flexton sat at a table, whilst Hann starts creating a beat with his vocal chords. He mixes this together on what appears to be an MPC of sorts, so each sound loops and eventually builds into a beat. Eventually, Hann turns the beat off and starts beatboxing on his own.

Whilst this happens, Flexton starts to break into a dance. At first it isn’t exactly clear what is going on but as the dance progresses we see Flexton appear to hold a gun to his head before wrestling it away. This collaboration of beatboxing and breaking works very well and appears to portray a kind of suppression of violent outburst and possibly suicidal thoughts. It certainly would be interesting to see a slightly extended version of this.

Moving onto the breaking, and Flexton pops up again, portraying an aggressive nature. However, Flexton is the only breaker that seems to portray a specific type of character. This is not a fault of the breakers themselves, at different times they all proved themselves to be talented dancers. It is more a fault in the choreography and direction of the show. The expression could have been more clear at times. It will certainly be interesting to see the difference between this show and Avant Cymru’s upcoming ‘Blue Scar’, another hip-hop theatre show with more of a set story.

The emceeing is of a very good standard. Occasionally repetitive, but very good at getting the point across. Rufus Mafasa, Maple Struggle and Jamey P all perform well. The themes do jump around a little bit, but the lyrical content, delivery and flow are all strong. The highlight is Maple Struggle’s song, Quit Mooching, which starts with Maple Struggle getting left with the bill after a date before breaking out into a song about his perception of how some women will use men as well as general materialism.

The graffiti used in the performance is minimal. The piece as a whole could really capitalise on the art form better. There is a stylistic writing of the piece’s title on a screen off to the right of the stage and on a screen at the back of the stage, at times are pictures and moving pictures of graffiti. However, even sitting at the front it was hard to make out exactly what the graffiti was and certainly wasn’t used as well as it can be. The simple set worked well, but could do with more graffiti.

The main theme of the show is gender which is explored thoroughly. Toxic masculinity is portrayed particularly well by Bboy Flexton with the aggression as well as suicidal thoughts. An issue very specific to toxic masculinity and very important in the South Wales region. Rufus Mufasa also had powerful moments of feminist lyricism and generally portrayed herself as a powerful woman. Some of the breaking could be more clearly focused on this theme.

As far as is it worth seeing? Yes, it is worth seeing. It’s not the most rehearsed piece of hip-hop theatre or the most concise. But in terms of exploring what Welsh hip-hop theatre is, it is pioneering. If you’re a fan of or are involved in hip-hop then definitely see this if Avant Cymru ever bring it back. If you’re not into hip-hop, then I recommend seeing this for a positive introduction to hip-hop.

After the show there was a bit of a freestyle from those involved and some from the audience and the feel of community this gave off was beautiful. As a hip-hop fan, it was great to see the true power of hip-hop community shine bright.

As this was a once-performed show with no known future dates, go and check out Blue Scar by Avant Cymru at the Park & Dare Theatre in Treorchy on July 12th and 13th and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Much of the same cast will be involved and the preview they gave at the end was very good.

Info:
People – Picture – Power – Perception’
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
31st May 2018
By Avant Cymru
Directed and Choreographed by: Rachel Pedley, Tommy Boost and Jamie Berry.
Music From: Maple Struggle, Rufus Mufasa and Jamey P.
Set Designed by: Unity (Amelia Thomas).
Breakers/Dancers: Rachel Pedley, Bboy Flexton, Tommy Boost and special guests (uncredited).

Review by: Gareth Ford-Elliott